If you have a favorite artist, you’ve probably noticed that their work has a distinctive look. Sometimes that’s something as simple as a preferred color palette, and at other times it’s repeated shapes, textures, or even a lack of certain techniques.
Whatever it is, you see an artist’s work and can immediately recognize it. Many new artists ask “how can I find my art style?” before they even look up “how do I draw a straight line?”
In this article we’re going to discuss how to hone a specific art style and the pros and cons of doing so.
You’re going to find that most artists tend to copy their favorite work (you’ve probably done this already). We don’t mean plagiarizing. We mean you find a style you fall in love with, and you want to recreate it. Artists of all kinds do this, including visual artists, musicians and even writers.
For example, digital illustrator Philip Sue talks about how video games heavily inspired his work on his social media and website. By drawing favorite scenes over and over, he fell into his own style. If you glance at his landscapes, you can see he has a very clear-cut way of drawing- with repeated gestures and shapes.
If you look at any other artists that talk about their own style development, they have very similar stories.
Looking for inspiration means you can discover and draw what you love. Doing the same thing over and over means you’ll excel at that thing. So you’ll develop a style you are incredibly comfortable in: a go-to technique.
You’ll either begin to hone your own style or learn what you don’t like to do. This is also extremely useful in developing artistic style.
You may get bored doing the same thing over and over and start to inject personal variations and touches into what you’re doing. Take a look at the work of immensely popular Lois van Baarle. You’ll notice a distinctive style even though it comes from anime influence- which you’ll see everywhere.
Don’t know what to draw next? Try Triangulation’s Art Prompt Generator to find some inspiration. Don’t worry if the prompts seem strange, they are meant to stretch the imagination.
So how does such a common style (i.e. anime) become distinct? In Baarle’s case, she likes making her illustrations glow with lots of warm lighting, and she achieves movement with lots of curved lines. You can see this repetition even in very different pieces.
In our other example, Philip Sue uses lots of sharp diagonals and bold, dense colors. These are very distinct styles, even though both have an anime influence.
It can start almost mechanically, like trying to replicate a favorite style, until you naturally begin using your preferred techniques.
We already discussed this a little, but personality is what will set your style apart. You can draw what you like and what inspires you, but to begin making something distinctive you need to inject something of yourself.
Ask yourself what you enjoy most about the style you’re trying to draw in. You can play up your favorite aspects while getting rid of others. Eventually, you’ll be making the version of the style that you want to make. This can be minor variations from the norm- like your preferred color or lighting or more major, like replacing all texture with flat color.
Maybe you like cartoons but not people, like this artist who really wants to (and expertly does) draw anthropomorphic cats. You’ll notice Tracy Butler uses similar techniques to other artists, but it’s all cats all the time, a pretty distinctive change.
Pros: Why Should You Find Your Style?
You may be wondering if you should spend a lot of time trying to discover your own artistic style. It isn’t necessarily required of an artist, but there are good reasons to develop your look.
Recognition is key. There are so many digital, traditional, and other illustrators out there that standing out can be almost impossible. Having people associate your work with an unmistakable style can help you stand out. So instead of being an illustrator who can draw well, you’re known as “The Illustrator” who does specific techniques.
In some cases, it can help you find more work- almost like being an expert in your field.
Suppose you’re strongly associated with a specific style or even medium, like traditional inker Yuko Shimizu. In that case, a client who wants that look for their ad/book cover/article will think of your name first.
Cons: When is a Distinct Style Detrimental?
If you’re looking for general illustration or artistic work, a distinctive style can turn off some clients, especially if they need someone who is skilled but can take direction. If you’re new, you may want to show more of a range in your portfolio.
An unmistakable style makes you stand out, but it’s not ideal for an employer who is adding one person to a team of designers and artists.
For example, someone who has a product like an animated movie or video game will need you to work with other artists. They need to know you can work in the already established visual style of the product and not just do your own thing.
Clients also need to know that you can draw and have skills in what they’re looking for. If you do fantastic work, but in one style only, then you may be passed over in favor of someone who shows they can do whatever the client may be envisioning in their mind.
Showing solid pieces in a range of styles also proves that you can take direction. Again, this is especially important if you’re new to the field and applying to any job you come across. They need to know you have the technical skills more than they need to know who you are (because if you’re very new, it doesn’t matter).
But Don’t Forget Personality
However, you shouldn’t come across as bland. Have a few pieces in the same style (even if it’s not your personal style) to show you can do the same thing over and over if required and that you have a personality.
Outside of professional work, it can be boring to pigeonhole yourself. Maybe you love drawing a specific style, but it’s not the only thing you enjoy. Draw in whatever style that you find exciting or inspiring.
Artists can limit themselves by being overly concerned with how their pieces look altogether.
Even if your portfolio ends up looking schizophrenic for a bit, you’ll learn more the more places you try to borrow from. And it’s a lot of fun.
Developing a personal artistic style is more about practice and inspiration than sitting down and deciding: this is my style.
There are a lot of good reasons to develop your own look. But you may want to save that for later after you’ve become confident in all kinds of drawing.
Don’t be afraid to try new things while also discovering what you love most. That’s how you’ll eventually settle into your art style.